Friday, January 8, 2010

Hierarchy of Success - Approach

Continuing on the Hierarchy of Success series, now I want to move on to Approach.  In the big scheme, this is the second level as we build our coaching.  As you follow coaching "experts" on the internet, you'll likely find that far too much of coaching discussions are centered around Execution and then Tactics.  Try finding a dvd or seminar thats about anything other than which exercise to use, or how many reps and sets, or the greatest new circuit.  Of course, thats what sells.  Those topics are all about numbers 4 and 5 on the list.  Unfortunately, thats not really what makes you successful.
  1. Attitude
  2. Approach
  3. Strategy
  4. Tactics
  5. Execution
In coaching terms your Approach are the broad strokes. What are the fundamental things you believe in for preapring athletes?  Do you believe in training movement?  Max Strength?  Core training?  Corrective exercise?  Heart rate based cardio programs?  Do you believe in developing general athleticism or sport specific skills?


From the speed and movement perspective the question is important in how you design your program for results.  If you see athletes who need to be faster will you use "technique drills" to develop speed or do believe strength is the primary focus. This can influence your training goals to be either "we need better sprinting technique" or "we need to be stronger!" The broader questions of approach will dictate how you set goals.

I started as a sport coach, then an Olympic weightlifting coach, spent time learning as a track coach, and today I am a sports performance coach.  For myself, after a winding road of influences, time in the trenches, and scientific research, I believe in training movement and developing physical capacity.  Training movement means different things to different coaches, for me it means both "technique" training and guided skill acquistion. 

There are many coaches who don't believe in "technical" training for movement.  They generally fall into two camps;
  1. Just get strong and explosive because technique training is a waste of time
  2. Just do the drills fast and athletes figure it out
I think there is SOME truth in both depending on the athlete, environment, goasl, etc...  Either approach will get you results SOME of the time with SOME of the athletes.  I personally strive to go 10 for 10, not for just SOME.

There can also be a problem in some approaches that DO believe in technical training.  If we do large volumes of technical training and enforce a rigid approach to movement, we can end of with poor transfer to on field performance and/or robotic, mechanical movements.  If we expend all of our time and energy and none for improving strength and power, we will also fail.

So my approach is one of "Skill Acquisition"  There are some good theoretical concepts we can apply to sports performance from the field of motor control and in particular, dynamic systems theory.  One of the key concepts here is that expert learners thrive not only with variability of movement, but in part BECAUSE of variability.  This is an entire series of posts in itself, but its important to consider for a moment here.

Sports are dynamic and the task constraints of reactions, opponents, surfaces, fatigue, and more are always slightly different.  The best performers can actually create the dsired movement outcome, without using the exact same kinetics and kinematics.  Thats what makes them better athletes.  Its the athlete that is stuck in only one streotypical movement pattern that falls apart come game time.  While there are ranges of kinetic and kinematic parameters that create a technical model for speed and agility, maybe they aren't as rigid as some coaches think.

Speed and agility are often taught by making every athlete conform to the exact same technical model.  Drill after drill is done to teach the athlete to perform in this way.  That can work fine if it truly fits the constraints.  Environmentally, thats easy when they are sprinting on a track or field without reactions, tactics, or opponents. 

One of the constraints however is the athlete themselves.  The capacities of their nervous system.  Their range of motion.  There anatomical segment lengths, muscle insertions, lever arms and tendon lengths.  The list is quite extensive.  Each of these is a unique constraint to that athlete.


Now don't get me wrong, I don't advocate a "just go and run fast" approach.  I think we should train our athletes through guided discovery.  Just about every speed or agility training session for a non-track athlete should include some mix of 3 components;
  1. Technical drills to develop movement patterns and build kinesthetic awareness
  2. Training drills designed at inducing a physiological, neurological and/or metabolic training effect
  3. Applied drills that allow the athlete to develop movement solutions in a dynamic envornment by applying the movements trained
Instead I see many coaches who jump to part 3 only.  Just take your athletes out and do some drills.  Hopefully the good ones figure it out.  We also have cases where coaches spend so much time on nothing but technical drills, that the athlete develops a specific stereotypical technical model, but once they go to apply it it disappears in the actual game setting.
I also see problems when we have an athlete do nothing but movement training, and no development of strength, power and other physical qualities.  Of course they improve with movement training, but they will plateau as well.  There are limits to improvement that relate back to their strength & power to bodyweight ratios.

So by learning from successful coaches, coaching on the track and in the weightroom, doing the research, and most important, spending years actually coaching real athletes of all levels and ages, I came to my APPROACH.
  • Train movement skills with a combination of technical, training effect and applied drills to guide the athletes to their optimal movement strategy.
  • Develop the athletes capacities for strength & power.
 What's your approach and why?